Match Report: Vancouver Whitecaps v Portland Timbers (USL Playoffs)
Vancouver Whitecaps are now just 90 minutes from a place in the USL Championship final following a one sided first leg semi final last night, in which only one team seemed to turn up.
Following some poor form mid season, it’s been an improbable but welcome bounce back from the Caps who keep showing why they are the defending Champions.
Portland’s later season form has dipped considerably after their long unbeaten streak was ended and Vancouver showed they had nothing to fear from a powderpuff Timbers side that didn’t look worthy of topping the regular season standings and rarely troubled Jay Nolly’s goal.
A large and, at first, vocal Timbers Army representation headed north from Oregon and it was impressive to see around 60 make the trip on a wet and cold Thursday evening.
Vancouver’s Luca Bellisomo and Wes Knight had the first chances of the game but their efforts went wide, before both teams then traded half chances. Marcus Haber had a great chance to put Vancouver one up midway through the half. He brilliantly got on the end of Ansu Toure’s cross into the edge of the box and with Timbers goalie Steve Cronin committed, and the net empty, he headed agonisingly wide.
The Whitecaps fans didn’t have to wait much longer to erupt with joy however. With 25 minutes on the clock, Takashi Hirano whipped a delightful cross into the box and the USL Golden Boot winner Charles Gbeke met it with his head ten yards out and headed the ball into the ground, up and over Cronin and off the underside off the bar into the net.
1-0 Vancouver and cue scenes of jubilation around the far from sold out Swangard Stadium.
The Whitecaps were clearly in the ascendency and controlling the game and had a couple of attempts at increasing their lead before the contentious and controversial decision of the night, that may yet prove to be the game changer.
With two minutes of the half remaining, Hirano gave the ball away cheaply to the Timbers in the middle of the Caps half. After several blocked shots, the ball was fired at top speed towards the Caps goal, hitting Lyle Martin as he was bundled to the ground by a Timbers player. Martin had no chance of getting out of the way and it should have been a Caps free kick anyway, but the ball hit his hands and the ref pointed to the spot.
Ryan Pore converted from the spot and the anger erupted both on and off the pitch, with Vancouver substitute Marco Reda being red carded for comments to the fourth official. As half time came, the referee was given an escort off the pitch by security as several fans abused him going up the tunnel.
Portland were now back in a game that they were never at the races at.
Full credit to the Caps players though. As the heavens opened, they responded the best way possible and regained the lead four minutes into the second half. Charles Gbeke turned provider this time and played an inch perfect cross into the penalty spot and Haber rose unmarked to head home with ease.
The Southside erupted and the smoke bombs and flares came out. 2-1 Vancouver and justly back into the lead.
Portland offered little in return and Vancouver had several chances to increase their lead and take a decisive advantage into Sunday’s second leg, as the smoke kept coming and threatened to fog out the pitch at times. Subs Marlon James and Nizar Khalfan had the best efforts, with Cronin doing well to save both.
The final whistle came and Vancouver’s fans celebrated a deserved victory and one that puts them one step closer to back to back Championships.
It can only be hoped that the slew of missed chances doesn’t come back to haunt them at PGE Park on Sunday. Portland will be fired up for this and should be a different looking side to what was on display at Swangard last night, or at least you would think so.
With a sizeable contingent making the cross border journey it should be a cracking game and a cracking atmosphere. I can’t wait. I wish it was Sunday already!
FINAL SCORE: VANCOUVER WHITECAPS 2 – 1 PORTLAND TIMBERS